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When you think of Italy, what do you think of? Pizza and pasta? The rolling hills of Tuscany, or the canals of Venice? The statue of David, the Sistine Chapel, or the Colosseum?

Perhaps you think of all of those things. I know I do!

But, I also think about simpler things - long dinners. Crowded bars where people shout for espresso. Double-cheek kisses. Laundry hanging in alleyways. The way Italian sounds like a song, rather than a language. I think of family, adventure, and the warmth of the Italian people. I think of feeling very much at home -- in myself and in my surroundings.

When I was a teenager, Italy was my home. Due to an amazing work transfer opportunity my dad received when he worked for an international, Fortune 500 company, we lived in Milan. Right before my 13th birthday, we moved there -- something I still pinch myself about, wondering if it really happened -- and ended up living there for three years. It was the single most formative experience of my entire life, influencing my worldview, interpretation of other cultures, capabilities with speaking a foreign language, and opening my eyes to how big the world really is.

After the three years, we moved back to our suburb of Pittsburgh, Pa., and I didn't go back for a long time. Aside from a trip I took back to Italy the year after we moved back to the States, I ended up being away for about 20 years. Then, in 2019, I realized that I had had enough. There was no point in waiting anymore or being stuck in indecision about where I'd go if I did go back - I bought the ticket. The week of Thanksgiving 2019, I spent a week staying in Milan, but traveled to the Emilia-Romagna region and to Venice as well. You would have thought my entire trip was financed by Airbnb - I took complete advantage of finding a unique place to stay and the experiences they offer to travelers who want to be more engrained in local culture when they travel. Seriously, I can't say enough about how much I love Airbnb anyhow I most likely will never go back to staying in chain hotels.

On the phone one night, my mom said, "You just sound so alive over there." And, it hit me. I felt more alive than I had in years. I felt like a giddy teenager who just met and was getting to know their first crush, except I was falling for a country. I wanted to know and experience everything! It felt like I was living in my own romantic comedy; the streets were mine, the people were delightful, I saw friends from school I hadn't seen in 20 years, and it was as if we had just seen each other the day before. It wasn't just a vacation, it was an awakening.

Since that time, and especially due to the pandemic, (like most people) my heart has felt a longing to go back. Travel restrictions robbed so many people of the joy that one can only experience when traveling, and I felt like a petulant child who wasn't allowed to have what they wanted. I wanted to be there again. I wanted to experience that spark of joy once more.

So, I am excited for this to serve as my creative outlet until the day I do go back (and even after). I have a deep appreciation of everything Italian culture entails, so much so that there have been times that I've wondered if perhaps I'm just 1% Italian (and thanks to, unfortunately I have concrete proof that I am not).

I'm not Italian, but I love Italy as though it's my homeland. So, even though I don't have the right DNA, Italy is still in my heart, and my love for the country makes me as close to Italian as you can get without the ancestry. This deep love for Italy makes me an honorary Italian, and in my book, that's quite a beautiful thing.


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